Felipe Massa stormed to his third pole position at the Istanbul Speed Circuit after nailing team-mate Raikkonen and rivals McLaren in qualifying ahead of Sunday s Turkish Grand Prix.
The Brazilian ace blitzed the demanding Herman-Tilke designed circuit his favourite on the calendar en-route to the top spot, two tenths of a second faster than second place man Heikki Kovalainen, and over a quarter of a second quicker than Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen who make up the second row.
“I am very happy to have taken a third consecutive pole at this circuit,” exulted Massa, “it is really motivating and it would be fantastic to do the same again tomorrow in the race.”
“In Q2, I had a bit of traffic, but in Q3 I was able to do two completely trouble free laps.â€
While Massa danced his Ferrari around the undulating 5.4km circuit with supreme confidence to P1, the McLaren pairing were plagued by stability problems and were forced to do things the hard way, wrestling their MP4-23s around the fourteen corner circuit on each of their qualifying runs.
Such was the severity of the understeer of his MP4-23 that Lewis Hamilton who barely hung onto his McLaren in the notorious Turn 8 elected to run his final hot-lap on the harder compound tyres to help him at the end of the lap.
“I didn t make the right tyre choice as I was on the harder Bridgestone tyre for my final run,” rued Hamilton afterwards.
The decision almost certainly meant sacrificing a front-row position and indeed, Kovalainen, who was running on the soft tyres, out-qualified his British team-mate for the second time this year by just over a tenth of a second.
“I have felt comfortable in the car since my first lap yesterday, and everything has been running smoothly,” reflected the Finn. “In my second run in the third part of qualifying I attacked as much as possible, and the lap was absolutely clean which was great.”
Kimi Raikkonen had a disastrous final lap showing that it wasn t just McLaren who were struggling in the cooler temperatures, the Finn lost a lot of time in the third sector and wound up fourth quickest, a scant few hundredths of a second shy of Lewis Hamilton.
“Obviously, I would have preferred to have been further up the grid, but this position is definitely not the end of the world,” mulled Raikkonen.
“I am a bit disappointed but I made mistakes on my second lap in Q3 and I have to accept that: I didn t go into the final corner before the pit straight quite right and lost a lot of speed.”
Rain had threatened to burst through the picturesque Turkey skyline as it had done in the morning, but the wet-stuff eventually held off giving way for a sundrenched backdrop to the all-crucial qualifying decider, albeit with deceptively low track temperatures.
BMW Sauber for the first time this season looked unable to mount a challenge on the front-runners with Robert Kubica lining up in fifth and Nick Heidfeld, who traditionally runs a heavier fuel-load than his team-mate, starting in ninth place.
Red Bull Racing confirmed their underlining pace in the morning warm-up session with Mark Webber putting in another sterling qualifying effort to take sixth place, less than a tenth of a second shy of Robert Kubica, and, crucially for Renault-customers Red Bull, ahead of Fernando Alonso in the works Renault team. The Renault powered cars are closely followed by Jarno Trulli s Toyota in eighth.
David Coulthard, who entered the top-ten for the first time since the season curtain raiser in Melbourne gave Red Bull another reason to smile after sealing ninth with an impressive lap around the Istanbul circuit.
Those failing to make the top-ten cusp included both Hondas with Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button lining up twelfth and thirteenth respectively. Nico Rosberg who went an impressive fourth quickest in the morning warm-up wound up eleventh, the German just missing the top-ten by a couple of tenths of a second. Fellow countrymen Sebastien Vettel (Toro Rosso) and Timo Glock (Toyota) start the grand prix from fourteenth and fifteenth.
With Super Aguri a notable absence from the paddock, the margin of error in Q3 was even tighter with five cars instead of the usual six facing the chop. Renault s Nelson Piquet, who had been challenging his team-mate for the top-spot in morning practice, was the biggest scalp of the session; the Brazilian rookie spinning at Turn 10 on his final hot lap and missing Q2 by just over a tenth of a second. The 23-year-old will start the race in seventeenth place.
Williams Kazuki Nakajima was another high profile driver to fall short and lines up sixteenth for the race. The Japanese driver scuppered his opening run and got out of shape at Turn 7 when it came to the crunch later in the session. Toro Rosso s Sebastian Bourdais likewise failed to make the cut, the Frenchman taking eighteenth place.
Force India lost both Giancarlo Fissichella (nineteenth) and Adrian Sutil (twentieth) to the chop with Fissichella s failure to progress something of inevitability given his three place grid penalty for driving through a red flag in Friday warm-up.